I have two boys, 8 and 11 years old. Tony, the 11 year old, loves video games. He has a Sony PSP which he plays a lot. Far too often in my wife’s opinion. He’s constantly blowing his allowance on buying and selling games at a second hand store down the street from our house. But he also plays soccer on a team and does his homework, so it’s not all bad.
Last week he showed me a catalog of games to tell me about the next game he was all excited to buy: Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories. One of his 11 year old friends has it and he totally fell in love with it. An 11 year old kid. His parents let him buy a game rated “Z” for 18 and over because it’s wall-to-wall foul language and adult themes such as murder, mayhem, carjacking, brain-splattering headshots, cop killing, prostitution, BSDM, kinky sex, double-ended dildos, tittie bars, drugs…
That is, so far. For all I know, it gets worse. I’m still only on the 5th or 6th mission. Tony, on the other hand, is on well his way to unlocking the second island.
Last week, when Tony first showed me the game, our conversation when a bit like this:
Tony (in Japanese): Daddy, I want to get this awesome game!
Me (in English): What’s it rated?
Me: How old do you have to buy a game that’s rated Z?
Me: How old are you now?
Me: What’s 18-11?
Me: That’s how many years you have to wait to buy the game.
End of conversation. Flash forward to this week.
Tony: Daddy, look what I got!
Sony PSP: “You cock-sucking mother-fucking son of a goddamn whore! I’ll rip off your head and shit down your neck!” (explosions) (police sirens) (sexual innuendo-filled radio dialog)
So here’s the thing. And maybe I’m just rationalizing my horrible parenting skills and my guilt for not confiscating the game on sight.
Neither Tony nor Andy understand much English aside from the conversations I have with them, so all the swearing in the game goes over their heads. It was only a few weeks ago that Tony finally learned the word “shit” when I dented the running board of our family car trying to back out of a ridiculously narrow dead end. I’m not too worried about either of them acquiring a new and exceedingly foul English vocabulary from the game.
They don’t understand the adult themes in the game. Or, maybe they do, and if so, they already acquired such worldly knowledge elsewhere.
That leaves the violence. When I was a kid, we played cops and robbers and smashed Matchbox cars together all the time. And I didn’t grow up to be a sociopath.
Yesterday was a holiday so the three of us played the game together. I taught Andy how to read a map and to give and understand directions in English. I found a website of cheat codes and taught Tony some new vocabulary by explaining to him what they all did. The boys got practice sharing their toys, which involved patience and conflict resolution. Tony got to show me all the secret locations, mini games and tricks he discovered by himself. (I skipped over minor details such as what prostitutes and pimps do for a living.) We shared opinions about strategies. But most of all, the three of us spent hours of quality time together, which we don’t do often enough lately.
But still, I’m conflicted as to whether or not I’m being a horrible parent by letting them play such an adult-oriented game.